Women Traveling Alone
Last Updated: Apr 16, 2012
Costa Rica's reputation for safe travel is well deserved, and your visit here will likely be problem-free. However, as a woman traveling alone in Costa Rica, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Latin American men have an unfortunate reputation for machismo, an exaggerated masculinity that can sometimes seep its way into your vacation. In more traditional or rural areas, many men are unaccustomed to seeing a woman traveling alone, so your solo wanderings may attract unwanted attention: audible hissing, catcalls and piropos, Spanish-language come-ons, are all common.
Piropos are best handled with a bit of humor and a thick skin. Don't be surprised if a simple walk down the street elicits calls of "mi amor" (my love or sweetheart), "que belleza" (how beautiful), or "rica mami" (sexy). No harm or even disrespect is meant by these words. Take them as a compliment. Remember, though Costa Rica seems very similar to home, its culture is governed by a different set of rules. When in Rome, it's best to do as the Romans do. In this case, act like a Tica (female Costa Rican) and ignore the piropos. Train your eyes straight ahead, and fight the urge to give your suitors a piece of your mind.
To avoid unwanted male attention in the first place, all you need do is walk with a man. Making friends as you travel is easy, and if your new male friends accompany you down the street, you'll soon find that, like magic, all audible come-ons and hissing have stopped. But take care that your male companion walks on the curb-side of the sidewalk; otherwise, he isn't seen as "protecting" you, but rather "offering" you up to any interested party.
Another great way to minimize attentions is to modify your wardrobe. In San Jose, you'll find that many Ticas dress in tight, provocative clothing, often paired with mile-high stiletto heels (how they pull this off during rainy season remains a mystery). But these women are used to Costa Rican machismo, and know how to handle the slew of comments hurled their way. If you prefer to avoid piropos and catcalls altogether, consider exchanging a low-cut top for a more conservative version. Also, note that rural Costa Rica is nothing like the "big city," and is more traditional and conservative – provocative clothing is not recommended in these areas.
Traveling alone in Costa Rica is an amazing adventure, and with a bit of mental preparation, you can immunize yourself against the effects of machismo. And remember, not all Ticos (Costa Rican men) are chauvinists, and most will treat you with genui ne kindness and respect. So be smart, stay safe, and have fun on your Costa Rican vacation.
Tips for women traveling alone:
- Register with U.S. Department of State: The online process takes just two minutes, and if something newsworthy happens in Costa Rica, the State Department will contact you.
- Guard your privacy: Be discrete about discussing your travel plans. Don’t disclose where you’re staying or give specifics on your itinerary or schedule.
- Check in regularly: Before your trip, make arrangements to regularly contact someone you trust: a significant other, friend, or family member. Give your contact a copy of your schedule, especially contact numbers for booked hotels, and agree to check in on non-travel days, be it via text message, a quick email, or a phone call.
- Be aware of your surroundings: If something or someone looks shifty or shady, go with your gut and leave.
- Brush up on Spanish phrases: It helps to know basics, as well as a few key phrases like “Help!” (“Auxilio!” or “Ayuda!”)
- Protect your valuables: Carry a purse or bag with a slash-proof strap. Always stash emergency cash in your money belt, sock or bra, and don’t carry more than you’re willing to lose. Leave your passport in the hotel safe. If something is stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police and keep a copy of your report for insurance purposes.
- Consider your appearance: Costa Rica is traditionally a Catholic country where tastes may be more modest. Observe whether local women wear low-cut or tight clothing, and try to mimic their appearance. Leave flashy and expensive jewelry at home.
- Watch your drinks: Always order your own drinks at a bar, and don’t drink anything if the glass has left your sight, even for a moment.
- Use marked taxis: In most areas of Costa Rica, you’ll find both marked (legal, by the book) taxis and pirate cabs. For your safety, only take marked taxis. Throughout most of the country these are easy to identify, as they are red and have a yellow triangle painted on the doors.